By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
This season I have been pondering “love.” According to the Apostle Paul, it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:7).
In a sense, it has been the theme of both of our annual conferences. Eastern PA (June 13-15) emphasized the importance of passing down the generational love of God through evangelism. Peninsula Delaware’s annual conference (May 30-June 1) called us to be out in the world engaging in acts of sacrificial love.
Love knows no bounds, is accessible to all, is contagious and, like blood type O- negative, it is the universal donor. Love continues on and on in an unending stream of goodness and life.
The last week of June I traveled to the Northeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa., where I encountered a bridge adorned with “locks of love.” This phenomena can be found all around the world. Countless people attach padlocks to chain-link fences on bridges as symbols of their love commitment to significant others.
So popular is this kind of padlocking that from time to time municipal officials have to remove locks because the sheer weight of them can compromise the integrity of popular bridges. The locks symbolize permanence and faithfulness to a promise, another characteristic of love. The sheer weight of love can conquer anything, even the structure of a mammoth bridge.
Last week I flew to Kansas City for Youth 2019, the denomination’s quadrennial gathering to celebrate and enhance youth ministry. The theme was “Love-Well.”
There I encountered the faces of over 3,000 young people seeking to be the loving presence of Christ in this world. They were concerned about immigration, the environment, the place of LGBTQIA+ members in our church, and the hard, hard task of loving enemies.
I taught a class there along with a few other leaders from the UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities. We taught about accessibility for youth who have physical and emotional challenges.
The theme of love appeared again and again in our conversations, including: how to be in ministry with those on the margins; how to create spaces and accessibility for equality of participation; and how to explore the giftedness of the disability community.
At the end of the day, it is all about love. It is that simple, it is that hard. It means waking up every morning and praying that one can be an agent of love in the world. It means doing the challenging work of getting yourself out of the way and putting Christ and others first.
The Holy Club of Oxford University that John and Charles Wesley led in 1729 required its members to undergo a rigorous self-examination each day with 22 questions. Each one boils down to holiness of life and focus so that love can shine through.
This Holy Club changed the world. Most of the 25 members of this club eventually became legendary leaders of the Great Awakening, a widespread religious revival of that era that changed the world forever with love.
This still works today, especially during these polarizing times. As we make love our focus, all the other things of life fall into place. As Paul reminds us love never fails (I Corinthians 13:8).